By Francis Wakefield
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday expressed belief that the country should not be alarmed over China’s “show of force” in the South China Sea.
Dozens of Chinese naval vessels are exercising this week with an aircraft carrier in a large show of force off Hainan island in the South China Sea.
“I don’t think we should. We don’t believe the Chinese will act provocatively by bringing their warships, much more their aircraft carrier in disputed waters,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said that the Philippine Navy and Air Force
are monitoring the situation to determine what they are doing.
“Of course. Our Navy and Air Force are (monitoring it),” he said.
A news report from Reuters earlier stated that the Liaoning carrier group last week traversed the Taiwan Strait, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry.
The photos, taken on Monday, show what appear to be at least 40 ships and submarines flanking the carrier Liaoning in what some analysts described as an unusually large display of the Chinese military’s growing naval might.
Sailing in a line formation more suited to visual propaganda than hard military maneuvers, the flotilla was headed by what appeared to be submarines, with aircraft units above.
Jeffrey Lewis, a security expert at the California-based based Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies, said the images showed the first confirmation that the carrier was joining the drills.
“It’s an incredible picture,” he said. “That’s the big news to me. Confirmation that, yes, the carrier participated in the exercise.”
While the Liaoning has previously entered the South China Sea as part of drills in uncontested training grounds south of Hainan, its annual exercises are closely watched by regional and international powers eyeing Beijing’s growing military might.
It is unclear where the flotilla was headed, or how long operations will last. China’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
China’s claims in the South China Sea are disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei while Taiwan also has claims.
The exercises come amid fresh signs of tension in the resource-rich waterway, with Vietnam recently halting oil exploration off its coast by Spanish firm Repsol under pressure from Beijing.
Beijing also objected to a so-called freedom of navigation patrol by a U.S. warship last week close to one of its artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago further south.